Jerry's View: We might be called the "Greatest Generation"
It does not seem so long ago that I left my job as a test electrician at Boeing (they went on strike) in 1946. Curly Witherbee, shop foreman, said we'd be back in three weeks. Six months later they were still "out" and I needed work for my growing family. With three kids in a 750 sq ft house in McMicken Heights, I knew I had to do something!
We might be called the "Greatest Generation" by a number of folks but I only know, without a job, you don't eat. A friend mentioned some excavating and cement work not far from our house. Near the old Lewis & Clark theaters a crew was putting in a meat locker with cold storage. The hole had been dug, the 14 foot deep frame was in place and cement was pouring in when the whole form caved in. It was my job, with others, to muck out the wet cement so the crew could start over the next day. I was not built for this kind of back-breaking work but it was work. I lasted a day and what a day it was. My scrawny frame was exhausted as I traipsed dirt and muddy cement boots into my house.
My wife shrieked like she did not recognize me. It took me a week to recover but my metal had been tested. I worked at digging ditches, helping a friend build the Highline Christian Church on 150th and 1st S. It was basically unskilled labor, having never sawed wood or hammered a nail in my life. I once rented a paint blower to paint houses and roofs on my block. It worked because I was motivated. I was also hungry.
Not long after my initiation to physical endeavors, I upped my game. A friend from South Park called to say he had some work. He'd just contracted with the U.S. Army Surplus to clean nearly 500 old oil stoves from Alaska. They'd been shipped down for clean-up and resale.
I had the job if I wanted it. This was long before OSHA but I stuck my neck and head into the dark soot filled fire box and with scrubbing rags, scrapers and cleaning fluid I removed the crusty build-up off the inside of those awful heaters. For $1.50 an hour it meant making my rent and bringing home some bread and milk.
If the "Greatest Generation" can get credit for anything, it is tenacity, perseverance and maybe a little luck. Right after I finished that cleaning job a friend across the street asked me if I'd like to ride with him to Kent, to visit the publisher of the Kent News Journal. He was Merrill Saxton, a ticket manager for the Northern Pacific, and he liked to visit publishers in the towns were his company had ticket stations. I tagged along but my mind was working while we rode. Merrill introduced me to John Fournier. Out of the blue I asked him for a job, claiming I'd once worked as a copy boy for Meier and Frank in Portland (true). My timing must have been good. He asked me to come back to meet the ad manager (Bruce Helberg) and himself the next week. I was there promptly in my old 29 Desoto. They laughed when I drove up. My kids had tried to paint my car with some sticks and a half can of white paint on the driver's door. It did not matter. I was hired that day to sell ads for a paper they were starting called the Midway Mercury even though I didn't know the first thing about selling ads. I was so eager to be working. I figured I'd make mistakes. When you are scared and hungry, fear of failure takes a back seat.
At least I wasn't digging cement and scraping black crust from stoves. It was a great job for a guy with a body not built for labor even though I did manage to hold my own. It was tough to find work after the war. Lots of guys were returning from combat, looking for a job.
These are still tough times. If your back is against the wall, take some advice from a 93-year-old guy. Get out there. Knock on doors and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Maybe something good will happen.